6.29.2018

Yesterday I was putting together a slide show of theater photographs to share at a presentation. Then I thought I would also share the images with my readers here at VSL. I thought you might be interested in what we show.

Jill Blackwood in Xanadu. Zach Theatre. Austin, Texas

I write a lot about photographing for theaters here in the blog. Probably so much so that some of you think I must have an office at Zach Theatre, or that I do nothing but shoot for them. The reality is that most work done for private corporations is more tightly controlled and I sometimes have to jump through hoops to display it. But theater is different because the images are made with wide and diverse distribution in mind. The shelf life (from a show marketing point of view) is very short; about six weeks to two months for most work. But there's a pressing need to get it into as many media and social outlets as possible. 

This makes it easier for me to share with my readers on a regular and frequent basis.

I love these photos because they require me to be quick on my feet, always thinking ahead, yet at the same time reacting to the constant changes of lighting color temperature, exposure, blocking, composition and timing to make good work. If I do stuff well I get happy clients. That's a dangling carrot in which I am always interested. 

Today I built a gallery with a couple hundred images on my Smugmug.com site. My thought was to share it not only with my VSL readers but also the corporate clients who may never see my other work beyond my regular,  meager marketing efforts. I'll share it with them via an e-mail blast and a few handwritten letters. 

I'd love to know how you like the gallery and whether I should do more galleries of different photographic subjects. We have a pretty extensive archive to play with. I'd hate for all that work to just sit there and not pull its own weight......

particulars for this image: shot with a Sony a99 (yes, I even had one of those) and the Sony 70-200mm f2.8 (which, so far, has been the best of all the f2.8 zooms I've owned). 

Here's the link to the gallery: 


Type. Type. Type.

3700+

Why do I feel more comfortable with Nikon cameras rather than FujiFilm cameras? I never really gave it much thought till...

...someone asked me about my preferences at last evening's talk in Dripping Springs, Texas. I gave a cursory answer at the time but I've thought about it more today since we are in the period wherein all the blogs, photo websites and YouTube channels promoting cameras begin the concentrated glorification of the newest Fuji; the XT-100. For the next week or so we'll learn that this new, small, inexpensive camera is "Surprisingly good!!!" "Worthy of Serious Consideration!!!!" "A sleek and beautiful RETRO design" "Punches far above its weight class!!!!!" and, "Has a REVOLUTIONARY bayer pattern sensor!!!!!!" It's that magical period in which every writer newly discovers that cheap and simple can be really good. Especially if the site is in the business of getting click throughs and profiting from generating sales for giant camera stores and, well, Amazon.

If I were a fan of Fuji and already owned some of the lenses the breathless adulation for this $599 camera might have already pushed me to pre-order it. Indeed, it looks like a pretty good deal if you are just interested in taking photographs. But I'm not interested, which begs the question: What have I got against Fuji cameras?

The answer? Either: Absolutely nothing. OR: I've had some less than gratifying experience with the company's cameras, going all the way back to the Fuji S2.

In the early days of digital I shot a lot with the Kodak DCS digital cameras. My first experiences were with the DCS 660 but my favorite early digital camera was the DCS 760 with its 6 megapixel APS-H sensor and removable AA filter. It was a beast in more ways than one. It was built on a Nikon F5 chassis which meant it was rugged and fast. It weighed nearly five pounds so it could hardly be called convenient, but the most beastly factor for owners was that this 6 megapixel camera cost $7,000 and could only really be used at ISO 80 and ISO 100.

When the market for APS-C digital cameras from other makers took off there were competitors like the Nikon D1X, but it was still a pricey unit and didn't offer any real image performance advantages over the DCS 760. Enter the Nikon D100, a camera that never gets mentioned today.

The D100 hit the market at around $2,000 and made very nice images. It had a tiny raw buffer of four. Yes. 4. It took a while to write to the card but the camera was well behaved and rarely crashed or froze. I bought one and used it for a while. But it was (on paper) outgunned shortly afterwards by the Fuji S2. The S2 employed a novel new sensor that promised the equivalent of 12 megapixels. The sensor was continued with additions and improvements in the S3 and the S5.

But let's look at the first camera I bought, the S2. It was based on a Nikon N80 body but it required two different sets of batteries. Four double A batteries went in the extended bottom segment of the camera while the regular camera portion used two (non-rechargeable) CR123 lithium batteries (which we ended up buying by the bucket load ---- not an efficient energy user...). You could load all the batteries at the same time but it was almost guaranteed that they would die in opposite cycles from each other. And with alarming frequency. Change the double A batteries, shoot some more files, change the CR123's, shoot some more files, etc.

And when one set or another died they did so while corrupting whatever files were still left in the buffer. In fact, the S2 and S3 corrupted more files than any other camera, or camera system, I have ever owned. Regardless of CF cards used.

At the time the lure of the S2 through S5 was the idea of getting what might be considered a 12 megapixel camera at a time when there was only one other 12 megapixel camera on the market; the Canon 1D full framer (nearly $7.000). We were paying about $2400 each for S2 cameras that extrapolated 12 megapixels from a six megapixel sensor, used an amateur camera body with a 92% viewfinder, and had raw files that, upon introduction, were only usable in the world's worst raw processing software.

But, hope springs eternal, so we gave it a go when the S3 came out. Bought two. There were two things to like about the newer camera: first, the sensor kind of really had 12 million pixels on it. Half the elements were big ones and half were small ones. The big ones were good for low light while the tiny ones were optimized for highlight detail and the combo provided better dynamic range than many competitors. Second, the camera did away with two sets of batteries and settled on one set of 4 double A batteries instead. It came with a set of metal nickel hydride rechargeable batteries which might get me through a hundred or so images.

I did a lot of work with the S3 cameras but the files never had the detail and ease of processing that I could get from the then competitor, the Nikon D2X. I finally switched to Nikon, which wasn't that difficult as both systems were DX (APS-C) and both systems used Nikon lenses. This was before the magic time when Fuji started making lenses for their mainstream consumer products (Fuji has been a supplier or professional film and video optics for decades, and they have a sterling reputation in that field).

The choice was all about camera bodies. The Nikon blew the Fuji away for handling, speed, battery life and focus. It wasn't a hard decision.

So, that was my early history with Fuji digital cameras but what about now? Now Fuji seems to be the "Gold Standard" for many advanced amateurs, and lots of pros are starting to shoot with them as well. Why not give it a try since I've dragged myself through Panasonic, Olympus, Canon, Nikon, Sony and Samsung in the last eight years......?

I rushed out and bought a Fuji X-100 when it first hit the market and hated it. Passionately hated it. The shutter sounded cheap and frail. The software was half-baked in the first production cycle and the finder was an insult to any Leica user. It went back to the store and I was even happy to pay a re-stocking fee just to get it off my depreciation schedule.

When the X-Pro-1 came out I decided I'd been too harsh on the Fuji cameras and, knowing the solid reputation for their lenses, I read all the reviews of the camera and the new lenses and went to Precision Camera with a checkbook in my hands. I was sold by the incredible marketing. I loved the look of the bodies which was a nod to the Leica cameras I'd used all during the 1990's. We were just coming off some big project and I had the extra cash with which to scratch this Fuji itch.

I played with the camera. Loved the overall feel. But the finder looked blurry. I couldn't find the diopter adjustment, you know, the eyepiece control that comes even on the most basic point and shoot cameras... Right? I asked the sales person. Nope. There was no built-in eyepiece diopter. I would have to order a screw in lens for the finder. Did they have them in stock? No. Could they be ordered and delivered quickly? Maybe in six months.....

Later a rep for Fuji insisted that I try the revised X-100T. A "much improved" product. It wasn't. I sold it to a friend who really wanted to want it. He too was less than bowled over.

At that point I called it quits, at least temporarily, on Fuji cameras. I'll give them another generation or two to sort out everything and then I may dip my toe in with whatever their flagship camera at the time is. That and a 50mm equivalent lens. I'm sure it's all vastly improved at this point and will be even better in the next rev but... snake bit three times and you want to give yourself a rest and let the anti-venom do its job...

If you want to read stuff about the Fuji XT-100 give DP Review a few days and no doubt you'll have dozens and dozens of "first impressions" "hands-on" "is it a Nikon F killer???" and other articles to plow through. Some might be interesting. A few might even be helpful. But we're not really interested in covering it here.

It's Friday. I'm looking forward to the weekend.

Finally, why is the Nikon F at the top of the article? Hmmm. It's a symbol for what I really want in a professional digital camera. I wish we had a digital camera with ISO, WB, RAW and a review screen. All the other junk you want could be done in post. That's the camera I have consistently wanted. A simple to operate, fully manual camera with about 25 million pixels of good, solid resolution and dynamic range. No more decisions to make on set. The antithesis of most cameras offered today.

"Thank you" To The Photographers of Dripping Springs. We talked. We shared. We had great Tex Mex food.

My friend, Dave Wilson, invited me back to Dripping Springs, Texas again this year to present to their organization, The Photographers of Dripping Springs. They left the topic up to me so I decided to talk about something I had never done a workshop or presentation about before, and that was: the nuts and bolts of photographing live theater.

I put together 187 photos I liked and presented them as a slide show, running continuously in the background while I spoke. The venue had a great projection system! I also showed a video we did for Zach Theatre; it's the one I posted yesterday afternoon on the blog. The purpose of showing the video was to point out how we integrate still images as b-roll in motion projects.

The talk seemed well received as the group then invited me to their favorite Mexican restaurant to continue, more informally, our discussions about photography, cameras (one question that came up was, "Why don't you like Fujis?") and life. The Tex-Mex food was great but the conversations were even better.

The most important thing I focused on was to not ramble on for so long that we missed the open hours of the restaurant. That happened when I came up two years ago and I learned my lesson. Speak for 45 minutes, answer questions for 15 minutes and then shut the heck up. It's a good, working method if you also want to get a nice dinner.

Thank you to PODS for making me feel welcome and for listening. And thanks for showing me another good Mexican restaurant that I'll keep in mind for those times when I am coming home from San Antonio on Hwy 281 (the scenic, back way) and hit Dripping Springs starving. All very well done. I only hope I didn't bore my fellow photographers and that they were too polite to heckle..... (smile emoji strongly implied...).